How sneaker culture in South Africa is gaining more traction.

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Words: Sizwe Ray Shabalala | Images: Getty

Our local sneaker culture - one could argue - is currently at the best it’s ever been. The modern societal advancements have made it easier to turn hobbies into careers, turn nicknames into brands, and sneakers continue to be more than just the shoes people wear for convenience and comfort.

For some, a pair of sneakers is a form of expression and an extension of who they are.

Most of the time when you ask a sneakerhead or a person who loves fashion how they got into it, more often than not, they have a very interesting story. For some, they recall the days in school when they would work odd jobs in the summer just to make enough money to buy the latest drop so they could look fly when they went back to school. Others might tell you about a time in university where they sacrificed “soup” for some swag or dinner for some denim. Everyone has their story.

Thanks to social media making it easier for us to connect with other parts of the world, we get to see how other sneakerheads around the world are elevating and growing their culture.

The influence that the international sneaker culture has had on us over the years is very evident today. We have gone from camping outside the store for the release of limited editions to now having to enter raffles online. This could be the result of the thriving culture adapting to modern ways of doing business based on technological advancements and also a way of giving everyone a fair shot at the opportunity of acquiring these sneakers. Not to mention, now you don’t always have to find yourself caught in a long queue with the risk of getting pushed and shoved around.


Sneaker culture is essentially an extension of hip-hop culture, no matter where you are in the world. In the early to mid-2000s, when rappers and hip-hop lovers would come together at Baseline, downtown Johannesburg, for some electrifying shows, you were sure to also see some of the freshest kicks on the soles of the dopest rappers spitting their souls out or consumers just kicking it enjoying the show.

Also, in the Western Cape, a place with a rich history of B-Boys and B-Girls, you were always sure to find the dopest kicks on graffiti artists, dancers, rappers, DJs, and even skaters — this is still happening even today. You can spot a pair of Nike Airs (aka Bubbles) at almost every corner of the Cape Flats.

The rich sneaker culture that has been built over the years - especially in the Cape - is actually unfathomable. The impact of these communities has transcended our local borders and has reached a global level. In the Cape-coloured community, these sneakers represent more than just looking the "flyest"; it’s a symbol of generational passion and the desire to always want to elevate and be unique. There are key individuals making sure that the work that’s been done in the last 25 to 30 years continues to move forward in the Cape and those people include the likes of Rolo Rozay, who continues to be the go-to for trusted quality sneakers at his Sneaker Cartel boutique. Someone like Youngsta CPTwho has become the voice of the Cape through his music, making sure these stories don’t go untold. Justin Ronné is also someone who has played a key part in making sure that the spirit of the Air Max culture in Cape Town keeps going, thanks to his now very popular Instagram: @bubblekoppe.

Air Max

While the pandemic may have impacted the annual event, there is no denying that Sneaker Exchange has also become an integral part of South Africa’s sneaker culture. Zaid Osman and Tebogo Mogola, who are credited for coming up with the idea, have made it possible for sneaker lovers to get together to show off their impressive collections and trade and be inspired by one another. The fact that Sneaker Exchange has grown so much in popularity since its inception means that South Africans have been wanting something like this. What’s also cool about this event is that there are usually a few hip hop artists on the lineup to perform and these artists are usually well-known for their kick game.

This all comes after a time when the public perception of sneakers was, for a very long time, not too positive in South Africa. For instance, Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars were associated with “criminals” or “thugs”. The international influence on South Africa has somewhat contributed to changing that perception and now sneakers have become so prominent in our daily lives, it’s not even unusual to see people wear sneakers with their wedding attire.

We are also living in a time right now where the influencer culture is becoming more of an integral part of the new ways of digital marketing and so, it means we are seeing celebrities (and traditional influencers) align with the major streetwear + athleisure brands such as PUMA, Reebok, Adidas, and Nike for campaigns and even signature sneaker deals.

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When it comes to listing some of the most iconic sneakers of our generation over the past decade, most sneakerheads agree that the NIKE AIR YEEZY 2 RED OCTOBER was the most iconic sneaker this past decade.

red october

However, there have been other releases that have flooded the streets since then. These include NIKE Air JORDAN 1 Chicago, thanks to the genius mind of Virgil Abloh. The adidas Originals Stan Smith made some noise with quite a few variations that came with the resurgence of this shoe, but perhaps the most iconic was the classic green-and-white colourway. The adidas UltraBOOSTwas so popular, it was almost impossible to step out the house and not spot a pair everywhere you went. We also got to see a mixture of the Air Max 1 and the Air Max 97 with the release of the Sean Wotherspoon Air Max 1/97. The Vans Old Skool also enjoyed great popularity among the youth and, of course, the Air Force 1 remains relevant even after all these years.

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